Thomas Jefferson, America's third president and leading political thinker, was born at Shadwell in Albemarle County, Virginia. He graduated from the College of William and Mary, studied law and administered a landed estate inherited from his father.
Jefferson was elected to the House of Burgesses, the Virginia legislature, in 1769 and established his reputation as a writer on political issues, but not as an orator. In 1772, he married Martha Skelton, who held significant land of her own. His wife bore six children in 10 years, but only two survived infancy. Jefferson never remarried following his wife's death in 1782.
Jefferson drafted instructions for the Virginia delegates at the First Continental Congress and served in person at the Second Continental Congress. In the latter capacity, he is best known for his authorship of the Declaration of Independence.
During the early stages of the War of Independence, Jefferson served the Virginia legislature and later as governor (1779-81). He was unfairly castigated for fleeing in the face of a British advance while governor and would be accused of cowardice in later political campaigns.
Jefferson again served in the local legislature and in the Congress. In 1784, he was sent to France as America's diplomatic representative, not returning home until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and missing the Constitutional Convention. Jefferson had initially been supportive of the changes in France, but later was repulsed by the bloodshed.
While in France, Jefferson wrote to John Banister in 1785 regarding the best education for Americans. After considering various European alternatives, Jefferson opined:
It appears to me then, that an American coming to Europe for education, loses in his knowledge, in his morals, in his health, in his habits, and in his happiness. I had entertained only doubts on this head, before I came to Europe: what I see and hear, since I came here, proves more than I had even suspected. Cast your eye over America: who are the men of most learning, of most eloquence, most beloved by their countrymen, and most trusted and promoted by them? They are those who have been educated among them, and whose manners, morals, and habits, are perfectly homogeneous with those of the country.
In 1789, Jefferson became the United States' first secretary of state. During the Washington administration, he became the focal point of the Democratic-Republican forces, which contended for influence with the Federalists under Alexander Hamilton. In 1796, Jefferson became vice-president in the John Adams administration.
Prior to the election of 1800, Jefferson wrote to Gideon Granger of Connecticut, making plain the difference between his political philosophy and that of the Federalists:
You have seen the practises by which the public servants have been able to cover their conduct, or, where that could not be done, delusions by which they have varnished it for the eye of their constituents. What an augmentation of the field for jobbing, speculating, plundering, office-building & office-hunting would be produced by an assumption of all the state powers into the hands of the general government.
The results of the Election of 1800 pointedly illustrated a serious constitutional defect. Both Jefferson and Aaron Burr won identical numbers of electoral votes, necessitating action by the House of Representatives to decide the election. Bitter debate eventually gave way to Jefferson's selection.
Jefferson was the first president to be inaugurated in Washington D.C. The capital was far from complete. The Senate chamber was the only part of the Capitol Building then completed. Jefferson was sworn in there, with the Senate, federal judges, and some members of the House present.
He was reelected in 1804. Major events during his administrations included the War with Tripoli, the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Burr Conspiracy, and the Embargo of 1807.
Jefferson devoted much of his retirement to the establishment of the University of Virginia, tending his estate as the "Sage of Monticello," and corresponding with his former bitter political rival, John Adams. In one of the great ironies in American history, Jefferson and Adams died on the same day, July 4, 1826 - 50 years to the day following approval of the Declaration of Independence.
There is much to admire about Jefferson, arguably the greatest intellect to occupy the presidency. He was a lifelong seeker of knowledge, a musician, an accomplished writer and philosopher, a student of several languages, and a naturalist. Jefferson pursued scientific studies, some of which resulted in practical benefits; he was the inventor of the swivel chair and the dumbwaiter. He developed plans for public-school reform and instituted land reform in Virginia. Jefferson also worked to establish religious toleration and freedom by eliminating the tax support of the Anglican Church in his home state.
There was, however, a less appealing side to Jefferson's character. He clearly understood that slavery was morally indefensible, but continued to own slaves. He was accused during his lifetime of fathering a child with his slave, Sally Hemings, a controversy that remains unsettled. In foreign affairs, he was an unbending foe of Britain when prudence would have dictated a more balanced approach. His view of an agrarian democracy was naïve in his own day and was soon eclipsed.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by Thomas Jefferson.
Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind.
Letter to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785
Regarding Separation of Church and State
On the faces of the obelisk the following inscription, and not a word more, "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and father of the University of Virginia," because by these, as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.
Instructions for his epitaph
What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.
Letter to W.S. Smith, November 13, 1787
Regarding Freedom of the Press
Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hestitate a moment to prefer the latter.
Letter to Edward Carrington in 1787
Regarding National Debt
The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.
Regarding Benjamin Franklin
I succeed Dr. Franklin. No man can replace him.
On being asked whether he was replacing Franklin as ambassador to France
Regarding Freedom of the Press
Advertisements contain the only truth to be relied on in a newspaper.
Regarding Freedom of the Press
Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious when put into that polluted vehicle.
- - - Books You May Like Include: ----
College of William and Mary by Chris Dickon, Pres. Gene R. Nichol.
By the time of the American Revolution, the College of William and Mary was already into its eighth decade as the academic source of what the new nati...
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis.
Following his subject from the drafting of the Declaration of Independence to his retirement in Monticello, Joseph Ellis unravels the contradictions o...
Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History by Fawn M. Brodie.
Here for the first time we meet Jefferson as a man of feeling and passion. With a novelist's skill and meticulous scholarship, Fawn M. Brodie shows Je...
Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 by John Ferling.
The election of 1800, pitting Thomas Jefferson's Democratic Republicans against John Adams' Federalists, was a thunderous clash of a campaign that cli...
Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty by Ivan Eland.
The four presidents chosen for Mount Rushmore are Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. The choice was made by the Danish-American scul...
Jefferson's Great Gamble: The Remarkable Story of Jefferson, Napoleon and the Men Behind the Louisiana Purchase by Charles A. Cerami.
Jefferson's Great Gamble tells the incredible story of how four leaders of an upstart nation--Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Livingston--risked the fu...
Negro President: Jefferson And The Slave Power by Garry Wills.
In "Negro President," the best-selling historian Garry Wills explores a controversial and neglected aspect of Thomas Jefferson's presidency: it was ac...
The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed.
Historian and legal scholar Gordon-Reed presents this epic work that tells the story of the Hemingses, an American slave family and their close blood ...